County Council to consider revised Essential Public Facilities rules Nov. 18

Change might be just around the corner for San Juan County’s hotly-debated rules regarding essential public facilities.

The County Council will consider regulatory changes which would allow so-called essential public facilities — such as schools, airports and barge landings — to qualify for permits through an exclusive “conditional use” process.

If approved, such a process would allow a project, whether public or private, to be permitted by the council should it meet the definition of “essential public facility” but fall short of the zoning requirements of the area on which the project is proposed.

The council, in a 5-0-1 decision, voted to consider that amendment, along with several other modifications, at a Nov. 18 public hearing.

If approved, the newly-proposed “conditional use” avenue would offer an alternative to the standard permit process to which essential public facilities, much like any other development proposal, are subject.

Under state law, local jurisdictions — cities, towns and counties — are restricted from prohibiting the siting or expansion of essential public facilities. However, Senior Planner Shireene Hale said local land-use rules act as a de facto prohibition in large part because they are weighted heavily toward residential, agricultural and shoreline development.

The potential of harm to the environment, or adverse impacts such as increased traffic, associated with most essential public facilities, effectively exclude such projects from qualifying for a permit under the current system, she said.

— Scott Rasmussen

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